The Mellotron directly comes from the Chamberlin (see History).

In 1946, in California, Harry Chamberlin created a musical instrument that was able to play pre-recorded magnetic tapes. Somehow, it was the first sampler in history.

Harry Chamberlin Interview
Crawdaddy – April 1976
[Thanks to Brian Kehew]

1948 – 1949

Model 100 Rhythmate

Approx. 10 units
It’s the first Chamberlin. It could play 14 drum loops recorded on 1/4″ tapes, with one track on each tape.
This instrument was designed for household purposes.
Taking advantage of the Model 100’s success, Harry Chamberlin started up a shop in Upland, California.

1951 – 1959

Model 200

Approx. 100 units
Unlike the previous model, the 1/4″ tapes of the Model 200 are no longer looped.
There is still only one track per tape, but this is the first Chamberlin to feature a multi-soundbank system.
It is also the first model to have musical instrument sounds (flute, violins, oboe, etc.).
The recordings were made by the Lawrence Welk Orchestra .

Up until 1969, the next Chamberlin models used 3/8″ tapes with 3 tracks per tape.

1960 – 1969

Model 300/350

Approx. 200 units


Model 400

1 unit


Model 500

2 or 3 units

1962 – 1969

Model 600/660 Music Master

Approx. 200 units
The Model 600/660 had two 35 note keyboards: the right hand keyboard was used for lead instruments, while the left hand one was used for rhythmic accompaniments.
Bill Fransen, Chamberlin’s salesman, left for England in 1962 with two Chamberlin 600 Music Masters unbeknownst to Harry Chamberlin.
It is this model that will serve as the basis for the creation of the first Mellotron Mark I, taking up its characteristics with an improved general design.
[See History]

1960 – 1969

25/35/45 Rhythmate

Approx. 100 units
As soon as 1970, Harry Chamberlin gave up the concept of instruments with several sound banks, and created a new series of instruments (800 Riviera, M1, M2, M4), using 1/2″ tapes with 8 tracks per tape, and a stereo playing system. This series was produced from 1970 to 1981.

1970 – 1981

800 Riviera

2 units


Approx. 300 units
The M1 had a 35 note keyboard. It was the most widespread and the most complete model.


5 units
The M2 (or M1D) had a right hand, 35 note keyboard, and a left hand, 25 note keyboard.


4 units
The M4 was basically two M2s in a single cabinet: thus, it had 4 keyboards.
Mike Pinder used a M4 on The Moody Blues’ Seventh Sojourn album.

1975 – 1980

20/30/40 Rhythmate


Model 100 & 200

  • US 2,910,298 – Sound reproducing system
    Filed: 07/16/1956 – Issued: 10/27/1959
  • US 2,940,351 – Magnetic tape sound reproducing musical instrument
    Filed: 10/16/1953 – Issued: 06/14/1960

Music Master

  • US 3,250,847 – Musical instrument with record type tone generator
    Filed: 07/05/1960 – Issued: 05/10/1966
  • US 3,272,907 – Electrical musical instrument having pre-recorded tape for tone generation
    Filed: 02/03/1964 – Issued: 09/13/1966


  • US 3,278,188 – Multi-tape reproducer with single pickup head
    Filed: 09/03/1963 – Issued: 10/11/1966

M Serie

  • US 3,567,840 – Tape drive mechanism for electrical musical instruments
    Filed: 06/20/1968 – Issued: 03/02/1971


Chamberlin Rhythmate 20 #415

Chamberlin Rhythmate 35 #692

Chamberlin Rhythmate 40 #1462

Chamberlin Model 200

Chamberlin Model 300 #6413

Chamberlin Music Master 600

Chamberlin M1 #86132

Chamberlin M1R #81304

Chamberlin M2 #70104

Chamberlin M4 Riviera 800 #69609

Photos: Don Kennedy for Studio Bell – National Music Center

Chamberlin M4 Riviera 800

Photos: David Cilia

Chamberlin M4

Photos: GForce Software



A curiosity to listen to

Two albums by Edmond S. Bordeaux & Norma Jean Nilsson, recorded almost exclusively with Chamberlin in 1965:


The sounds of the Chamberlin (especially those of the M1, M2, M4 series) were more realistic and “truer” than those of the Mellotron. This was due to different preamps, and tape heads of better quality. However, the sound alterations caused by the Mellotron’s low fidelity paradoxically gave it more charm, and were the source of typical and immediately recognizable sounds.

The recordings were produced and supervised by Lawrence Welk in Harry Chamberlin’s house. The only sound that the Chamberlin and the Mellotron had in common was the famous “3 Violins”, that was created in 1952 for the Chamberlin, and that you could find in 1964’s Mellotron Mark II.

MarimbaAlto SaxFluteSlur Guitar
PianoTenor SaxBassoonBanjo
Vibes (w/vibrato)TromboneOboeSteel Guitar
Bells (Glockenspiel)TrumpetBass ClarinetHarp solo
OrganFrench HornGuitar
Tibia OrganDo WahMandolin
Kinura OrganSlur Trombone
HarpischordMuted Trumpet
Electric Harpsichord
Flute/String Organ
Male Voice (solo)3 ViolinsDixieland Band PhrasesTemple Blocks
Female Voice (solo)CelloTrombone Sound Effects
Pizzicato Violins


Model 200 Brochure
Model 200 Sound List
Chamberlin M1 brochure
M1 Brochure
Chamberlin M1 brochure
M1 Brochure
Chamberlin Riviera Model 800
Riviera Model 800 Brochure